The ongoing coronavirus outbreak is a pandemic on a level never before experienced by mankind. Its very nature therefore provides lessons that the human race in general – and Ghana as a nation – should only ignore at their own peril.
First are the lessons that the global community of nations as a whole must learn.
The most basic one is that what distinguishes this pandemic from previous ones over past centuries is the speed and intensity of its global spread, which is simply the result of globalization. In future, the world must brace up to the fact that localized epidemics are a thing of the past – going forward all epidemics, no matter where they start from, have the potential to become global pandemics if they are not curbed right at the start.
Secondly, the world has to recognize that microbes are as potentially dangerous as weapons of mass destruction. The world could as easily come to an end through a global pandemic as through a global nuclear war. This means that the world needs to take this potential threat to its existence as seriously as it does global outright wars between nations and global terrorism, as well as religious fundamentalism and threats to human rights. Instructively, Microsoft founder Bill Gates warned of the threat of a global pandemic in 2015 but no one was listening.
The combination of those two lessons brings us to the third one: research on dealing with viral outbreaks needs much more funding and international cooperation than is the case currently. Similarly, better coordinated international responses to viral outbreaks are needed too, than the nationalistic, every country for itself, approach which has dominated the responses to the coronavirus.
Back at home in Ghana there are lessons to be learnt too.
The most obvious one is that while we have been congratulating ourselves for the significant strides we are making with regards to healthcare, we are still grossly unprepared to handle a major national medical crisis. Our response to the coronavirus outbreak demonstrates lots of commitment but very little capacity. We therefore urgently need to upgrade our emergency preparedness. This is like taking an insurance policy – it involves sacrificing part of our clear current needs for preparedness against future events that may or may not happen. But just as with insurance, history has shown us time and again the wisdom of risk management and the ongoing coronavirus outbreak is bringing this lesson home more starkly than ever before.
Another lesson is that Ghana needs stronger fiscal buffers than we have currently. Indeed, as a nation we are behaving like a household that spends its entire income, without any savings for the rainy day. The coronavirus outbreak has exposed the fragility of our public finances and the precarious position this leaves us in.
The next lesson is that formalization of the economy is good for everyone. Even if Ghana had the financial wherewithal to offer compensation to its citizens for loss of income during this viral outbreak, the logistics for doing so do not exist. Indeed, the majority of Ghanaians – who do not pay income taxes – would not have received state support because there is insufficient data on them to make this possible.
More lessons will undoubtedly emerge, for both Ghana as a sovereign nation and for the global community of nations as a whole. The coronavirus outbreak is proving to be a most enlightening teacher.